Infrequently Noted

Alex Russell on browsers, standards, and the process of progress.

Getting Past "Wiki"

While i've been in Portland for OSCON, the world of wikis has exploded in a wash of product announcements from Jot, SocialText and MindTouch. Today I had a chance to meet the MindTouch folks on the exhibit floor of the convention, and when I saw their UI I realized right away that they grok what Jot has been preaching since day one: users don't give a flying fsck about wiki markup. In fact, they don't care in the slightest that it's a wiki.

WYSIWYG in wikis, when done right, is a great example of how a brittle and unforgiving system (wiki markup) yeilds to one that isn't as accurate but is more right more of the time. Systems that work harder to meet users halfway have a better chance of success when exposed to real people. Systems that provide a gray area like this provide room for progress since they allow things to evolve around them without the consent of the "carrying" format.

But the applied consequences of Moore's Law only buy you opportunity if you grok them and even if you do, you still have to execute. Jot's new UI concept, "page types", finally gives end users a way to take practical advantage of the way Jot is architected internally. I've often said that Jot is an app platform cleverly disguised as a wiki, and I'm excited to see some of the camouflage coming off. In the same way that users don't care about wikis, they really couldn't care less that your thinger is an elegant, programmable, semi-structured content repository. They care about getting their work done. By pulling a lot of the products that used to have separate "endpoints" back into the Jot container the new version of Jot should giving users the advantages unified search, simple linking, and easy transformation that the system always provided under the covers. Jot is finally executing against their promise and it's exciting to see.

While Jot goes about mutating the wiki concept into something much more ambitious, MindTouch and Socialtext are re-commoditizing wikiware, but with differing views of who the target user is, what they want, and how they view the point of the wiki in their daily routine. It'll be interesting to see how http Atlassian responds and what the next version of SharePoint means.

Hopefully the newfound infusion of focus on what real people actually care about in a wiki isn't a collective one-off. With Jot and MindTouch pushing hard on improving the user experience, I have a suspicion it won't be.